As we drive south for our walk, the fog thickens and I put on the car’s fog lights, yet some people are still driving without any lights at all.
Pulling off the main road, I head down the long drive to the car park, wondering whether there will be anyone there and am surprised to find business more or less as usual. The car park is busy; people wearing lycra stand around chatting after their runs while others whistle to their dogs as they return to their cars. Only the usual groups of young mothers with pre-school children are absent. Less for us to worry about then.
Away from the cars the fog blankets everything and deadens sound like snow. I stand still for a moment to sharpen my senses, listening to the drip, drip, drip of moisture off the trees, the occasional bark of a dog, a plane flying overhead along the flightpath to Heathrow and, unexpectedly, the bright chatter of a bird.
We walk on through the mist, sticking to the wide main paths. I’m soon able to orientate myself though, oddly better than usual, perhaps because I know I need to concentrate harder in poor visibility.
Nora soon sniffs out a path to the small pond where she likes to swim and I follow her down a narrow trail through some birch trees so that she can have her dip. She swims and fetches the stick I throw her until it disintegrates and then we return to the car.
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We’ve been in London for a couple of weeks. The Boy has been to stay on his way back to Europe from Australia and it has been lovely having him here even if it was rather brief (for now). There’ll be another instalment in a couple of months.
Always on the look out for new places to walk Nora, we were going to Richmond Park when I thought I’d stop in Barnes on the way and see if I could find a way down to the river. By ‘the river’ Londoners mean the Thames, although the walk actually begins at an old cemetery, alongside a tributary of the Thames called Beverley Brook which flows through Barnes both above and below ground. Most of London’s rivers were diverted into the sewers in Victorian times and their names, for example, Stamford Brook or the River Fleet, mainly exist as place or street names today.
Nora really loves this walk as there are good woodland smells, open grass and water to splash in.
For me, as well as the obligatory grungy bit to photograph and some wildlife, the walk’s a lot less challenging than trying to stop Nora from constantly diving into overflowing park bins, which is one of the less pleasant aspects of summer in the city. I am training her to stop scavenging but I wish people would take their rubbish home with them if they’re going to leave a lot of food waste for Nora and the foxes to play with.
There’s always something though. This morning we were shouted at by a fat-arsed French lady who said she wasn’t cycling ‘orl zat forst’ when I complained that she almost ran Nora over. But if you have to do an emergency stop on a path where pedestrians have priority, you’re going too fast!
The pictures are experimental as I was testing the Boy’s Nikon and I haven’t really got the hang of it. It has a bit of a wonky lens but I think I like it. It seems to have a good depth of colour and works well in low light on its point-and-shoot setting, which is basically all I have time for with all the other distractions…
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Walking in the woods on Saturday, it seemed to be getting lighter and lighter as we pressed on into the trees, mesmerised by the carpet of bluebells through which we were walking. I realised that we were coming to a large clearing and knew we must have reached a tree felling zone I’ve only seen from the road until now.
We had decided to turn left when we set out from the car park instead of right as most people do. It’s a popular walking spot and I wanted to avoid other people on this busy, sunny morning and hear some birdsong in amongst the trees.
There were no signs to tell us to keep out so I decided to walk along the edge of the felled area before taking up our intended walk again in amongst the broadleaved trees. This was a pine plantation that I’d heard had been compulsorily felled to prevent the spread of Phytophthora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death), a tree disease that, it is feared, may cause as much damage to the English landscape as Dutch Elm Disease did in the 1970s.
Having read up about it since, I’ve worried whether we should have entered the felling zone at all, as the disease can be spread by foot, but as the pines were felled to create a barrier and, in any event, our footwear wasn’t leaving the area and we only walked along the rutted track left by the logging trucks, so I hope no harm has been done.
The bluebells which are everywhere at this time of year, although not yet fully in bloom, are suddenly exposed on the bare ground in the sunshine. Blooming away as though nothing had happened, they look forlorn among the tree stumps and the deep scars left in the earth by heavy lorry tyres.
Fortunately, there are many, many other woods in this part of Somerset for the squirrels, birds, rabbits and other wildlife who have lost their habitat to move to, as it will take another half a century at least until this place returns to how it was just a year ago. We can only hope this ugly piece of destruction succeeds in preventing something very much worse.
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Posted in Country life, Personal, Walking, tagged Country life, countryside, England, seasons, Somerset, south west england, Spring, UK, walking, west country on 17/04/2015 |
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Frayed around the edges and over-sensitive for no good reason. Always the paradox of wanting to leave one place and be in another, and then the fret about doing it and what I might find when I arrive.
Work over the road going on apace. Winters Barn, sold at the end of last year together with the field it stands in, has been completely pulled down. The field is full of heavy machinery and the radio goes all day. A flock of sheep is grazing and they appear to be charmingly right in amongst all this but they aren’t. Closer inspection reveals an electric fence.
They’ve renamed the place and I disapprove. The old name was good and the new one inappropriate. Like the doubling in size of the cowsheds down the road, these changes make me feel sad. I liked what I’d found here – the remoteness and the dark skies. Now there is orange light on all night in one direction (why, do cows crave streetlight?) and soon there will be people over the road plus the additional traffic all this creates. It’s already a local rat run. You NIMBY incomer, I chastise myself. What makes you the arbiter of how things should be?
Nice things: Sunshine, birdsong, lambs bleating in the distance. Leaf buds bursting everywhere: hazel, beech, hawthorn and rowan. Blackthorn blossom, tiny flowers nestling among brutal thorns. Gorse now fully out and wafting coconut after months of being only half in bloom. Delicate little short-lived wildflowers crouching close to the ground, easily missed. A new fern stalk standing proud of the crushed fronds of last year’s dry remains, unfurling slowly as if stretching after winter’s long sleep.
And lazy, bad-tempered me, who didn’t bother to take a proper camera because it’s only a walk.
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Posted in Personal, Walking, tagged London, walking on 01/03/2015 |
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We’ve been stuck in London for a few weeks. My mother-in-law (or ex-mother-in-law, to be precise but it makes no odds) and two friends from the older generation died within a couple of weeks of each other, so it’s been impossible to get away with one thing and another. Then the Girl finally moved out and I’ve been feeling a bit low as a result of all this.
I do miss the Quantocks very much: our long solitary walks and the ponies on the hills.
And the sense of freedom that comes from the fine, long, uninterrupted views across the countryside.
To compensate, we have been going to Wimbledon Common in south London a lot and it’s lovely walking there too. It’s enormous and feels quite country-like. There are ponds and lakes and Nora has learned to swim. It’s getting quite hard to keep her out of the water…
Here she is in Richmond Park, another favourite walking spot, on another day.
We love the woods at Wimbledon.
There are different kind of woods there. Some mixed deciduous on the hillier ground and one, in a very flat area, is just birch. It has a rather beautiful stillness about it on a cold winter’s day.
The blackbirds have started singing, and magpies and great tits are collecting nesting materials in the garden. Quince is flowering here and there, and this morning I noticed a little bit of cherry blossom where yesterday there was none.
It’s a good thing that Spring is just around the corner.
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Posted in Walking, tagged Country life, countryside, Dog, England, Quantock Hills, Somerset, UK, walk, walking, west country, winter on 26/01/2015 |
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When I first moved here, my neighbours had opened permissive paths and bridleways across their land as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. We could do a circular walk across their land, over hills and past ponds right from the front door without driving anywhere first. Since then, their old age and the austerity of the last few years have meant that the Council-run scheme ended and the paths fell into disrepair and were closed.
On the positive side, the closure of our most walked local route has meant I’ve been trying to discover new ways across the land nearby. Being a bit more adventurous and going in new directions is always a good thing.
We found a lovely walk the other day through the wood on the brow of the hill that I can see from my kitchen window. I haven’t found a way through the trees to a spot from which I can see the cottage yet, so lots more scope for exploration here.
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Posted in Animals, Country life, Walking, tagged England, photography, rural life, snow, Somerset, UK, walking, west country, winter on 14/01/2015 |
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Snow was forecast overnight. Drawing the curtains in darkness this morning, the electric outside light revealed a couple of centimetres of snow in the garden. Further afield, particularly uphill, there is a little more, so after a bone-warming bath and breakfast we head up the nearest hill for the dog to experience her first snowfall.
Before we can even get there, she goes a bit crazy in the garden but not at the snow, which she takes in her stride. It’s the frozen pond that freaks her out as she desperately tries to eat the incomplete sheet of ice covering it. “What’s this? Why can’t I pull it out? It’s so heavy. And COLD. I’ll zoom around like a lunatic because this is blowing my mind!”
The snow reveals all kinds of things I don’t normally see: footprints of birds and deer that have passed only a short while before, branches that arch above my head pointing at vaulted structures of deadwood and ivy. A new beauty. It also hides uneven ground, deep mud, drifts of leaves that trip me up, cowpats that squelch over my boots as they get sucked into the ground beneath. I forgive them all.
Back home now. Holed up, hunkered down, behind battened hatches, I listen to the wind whooming down the chimney. That is the noise that it makes. The fire finally decides to stop smoking and I relax and curl up on the sofa with a book, a cup of tea, thick socks, a blanket and a sleeping dog. Bliss.
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